“Do you have 5 minutes?”
I had just finished speaking with Justin Jacobson at GenCon 2021 about their releases for the coming year when he pulled me in with that hook.
And that demo was only 5 minutes long. The game? Omega Virus: Prologue, based on The Omega Virus, a game from 1992.
Omega Virus: Prologue is frantic, it’s fun (at first, anyway), and it’s short. With a name like Prologue, I’m already wondering: what’s next?
Omega Virus: Prologue is simple enough to fit into a box the size of Post-It notes.
Two players each have matching decks of 18 cards. On the back, cards are either black—which can freely be built into a tableau in front of you—or coded by a lock symbol in red, yellow or blue. The front of each card is divided into a grid of 4 boxes, a mix of the 3 key colors scattered across the 4 boxes. These cards can be laid adjacent to or on top of any other cards currently in the tableau you must build to unlock the keys. Some of the cards also contain ship parts that will need to be matched with their other half, but only after you have unlocked all of those keys.
The keys? They are matched with a randomly-selected shape below each color key card. These Tetris-like shapes, which for the purposes of this article we will just call “Tetrominos”, have to be built into your tableau to gain a key card which, in turn, allows you to grab, say, the yellow key and play yellow-backed cards into your tableau for the rest of the round.
You’ll have to unlock all 3 keys before you can find all 6 of the half-part items you need to match to finish a round. And, one more thing: your opponent is doing the exact same thing, as frantically as you are!
Whoever finishes the round first gets a 1-, 2- or 3-point bonus at the end of that round. Plus, there are scoring cards that help bump a player’s score—widest room, most 2+ red block rooms, fewest rooms, etc. Usually, scores are in the single digits, and whoever has the highest total after 3 rounds is the winner.
So, I’m playing what amounts to timed Tetris while also trying to win a speed bonus and align with as many end-round scoring cards as I can. Omega Virus: Prologue is the kind of game you will play with a roommate or a partner a few times and likely file away. It’s fine—fun the first couple of plays anyway—and it promises 5-10 minutes of play time on the side of the box.
But where is it leading? What game is Omega Virus: Prologue setting up?
I did a little digging on 1992’s The Omega Virus, a Milton Bradley game that certainly seems intriguing. It is real time, with games that last 15-30 minutes, and it features…taunting? By the virus in question? With many uses of the term “human scum”??
I couldn’t find the rulebook for the 1992 game, but The Omega Virus also appears to let players move around pieces or parts of a spaceship to find the virus and take it out before the virus destroys the ship, or humankind, or something.
In terms of a backstory Omega Virus: Prologue doesn’t tell the player much of anything. The instruction manual—and the manual is long, given what should be a very straightforward teach—only tells us that to get back to Earth, you’ll need to repair the ship’s systems before it is too late. But if this game is only meant to introduce a bigger game’s mechanics, it succeeds as a brief primer. I just wish Omega Virus: Prologue was more memorable.
Restoration, tell us more!!